Those of you who know me well (or just watch what I do) will know I am the driving force behind a new social network that is in development (www.livemeta.net). The bad news is that progress has been delayed again; we are taking timeout to refactor the team, get more funding and refocus our goals. A couple of months back we had an almost working product and were gearing up for release: we had funds (more than people realised I think) and servers and were, at one point, literally days from launching a beta.
Then luck threw us a saving roll. One of the team quit. Not under a cloud or anything – he simply got a good job offer he couldn’t refuse (especially in the current climate). Unfortunately he was the only one working full time on the project and so we simply had to kill the launch.
Over the next few weeks I fell in and out of love with LiveMeta. I thought about jacking it all in and moving on to the plethora of new (and much more achievable projects) I had in mind. In a way LM had always been an “unreachable goal” for me: a way to drive my learning of web design and development. In fact in the same month we were supposed to have launched the beta I was days away from closing down; at one point I had an email written to the team saying as much (it is still in my drafts box).
Looking back I can tell you why I lost faith. LM had been with me, as an idea, for nearly 5 years. I’d spent those years waiting for someone to come up with the same idea and put it into practice (as had happened so often before – indeed I have documents from as early as 2004 sketching out plans/designs for an online word editor; having never heard of writely). Yet it never happend. So a couple of years ago I figured that perhaps I was the only one to have this idea – or the only one with the vision to put it into practice and so LM, as a real project, was born.
Sadly I never really had the conviction. I spent 2 years thinking we would be beaten by someone else. That someone was working on a better product with the same principles. In early December 2008 that conviction was thinner than it had ever been. I felt like I’d wasted 2 years of coding and leadership to create a rough foolscap that others would easily beat in a few months: I didnt care any more. I’d proved it could be done and, so, I gave up (it’s a character flaw I have).
Then something happend to rock me to the core: I got an email I thought was a hoax. It was an approach from one of the current big social networks asking about my ideas and codebase (I have no idea who snitched the news LM was crashing to them: whoever it was THANK YOU). A few emails back and forth and a phone call proved the reality of the approach – there were enthusiastic shouts of “what a great idea” (whether that was just feeding my ego I am still not 100% sure). And finally the nitty gritty: a 5 figure sum to get our codebase, to keep us quiet on the idea whilst they built it and a job for me.
I turned it down without a second thought.
You might wonder why? The answer is simple. They have proved validity for my idea: I am now SURE that it is unique, clever and world beating. Now I believethose 2 years were worth something special – indeed something priceless. How could you sell that on? And so; we are back. With renewed focus and better understanding of our goals. And better yet we have a challenge again. You can bet our erst-while purchaser will be hard at work to emulate our idea (without our code base that is tough but not impossible) and so we will have to work fast to create our product.
But how do we assault the huge social networks that exist today? Simply producing a technical marvel is useless unless you can draw users to it.
Our time out from LiveMeta has given us time to reasses our approach to this. Prior to our proposed beta we had plans for a core social network upon which we would build smaller, specialised projects (blogging for example) using the cross linking to draw traffic from all over the place and condense it into one user base.
I still subscribe to that idea.
But rather than add products over our life cycle we now need to produce the websites at lauch, simply because we have to cram in as many people at once. Slow growth is good but you need a solid core of users to iron out bugs and bring variety to the network. Similarily there is no way a new product can have enough impact, unless it is a totally unique idea, to draw any decent market share – to build momentum you have to drive users from the core network into the sub-projects. So the new approach is more of a blanket attack on the modern web: release a core network which supports 10 awesome specialised sites. Draw a small proportion from each marketplace and push them into the other sites.
I find this approach uniquely appealing. I have always disliked the numerous accounts and logins I have to keep active across all the sites I use (and, no, OpenID has never felt like a solution to that – see below) so the hope is that other people think the same and they will form our first users. I know google is taking huge steps to do similar integration; but their system has always felt like it was built as a set of standalone products (which it was, user accounts are an after thought for google). By approaching the whole idea from a “global account” perspective later projects will simply plug in cleanly.
The other decision we made was to drop the more “unique” ideas we had until a later date. There will be plenty of time to put them into practice if LiveMeta proves successful but in the beginning they simply cant drive enough traffic to the network (unless, of course, they went viral – but that is a huge risk). Instead we’re focusing on “simple” everyday utilities; things like blogging, photo hosting, feed readers, forums, personal web pages etc.
I also think this is prime time to pitch a global assault on the “web giants” crown. Google is slowly (and wrongly in my opinion) losing it’s everyman Do No Evil image. Facebook is stuggling to cram it’s plethora of features into a decent UI. Twitter is a bit of a mess (c’mon – I get spammed to death and, as an OCD person, it is SO disorganised!). Friendfeed doesn’t solve any of the problems it purports to and sites like Last.fm just dont have the impact they need to survive past the next 10 years (and es I am looking that long term). Web 2.0 has been a buzzword for a long time and it still does not represent the “here and now”.More importantly no one is looking at the NEXT generation.
This is my pitch. My gamble. LiveMeta will try to BE the next generation. Maybe that is a risk – certainly I dont see it succeeding for a few years. But I think in the long term it will survive the changes better.
As part of this someone suggested I look at OpenID. I have. In detail. And I dont think it solves any of our problems. Certainly LM will NEVER touch OpenID – because LM is built on implicit trust and OpenID is very lax about that idea. Yes it is a neat solution; but it doesnt ultimately solve the problem of proving who someone is. I mean, yes, it does prove they own a website – but in this age how hard is that to achieve. There is absolutely no way to see, gobally, what kind of trust other people put into that person being who he says he is. LiveMeta doesn’t need to embrace things like OpenID (thankfully) because it is a NOW technology patching up a CURRENT problem. The next gen doesn’t have any of those problems because we solved them.
Basically the point of this (stupidly long) post is threefold:
Firstly, never dis-believe in your dreams. You’d probably be surprised how few people thought of the idea you did (at least in the way you do anyway )
Secondly, LiveMeta is back and more focused than before!
Thirdly, change is coming (I sound like Obama there – but it is true). Very few people are looking to the *next* generation and we intend to be in that elite group. Jump on the band wagon!